I worked on this 54 tonne monster for most of my time in the regular army. I was on the second training course they had developed when I converted from “B” vehicles (Landrovers and lorries) to “A” vehicles (tanks, scout cars and personnel carriers) and I managed to learn a lot more by gaining experience with time.
The Power Pack
The L60 power pack was designed by Rolls Royce and built under licence by British Leyland. The first engines were grossly under-powered, only at 450bhp, and whilst I was in the army were upgraded several times, eventually to 650bhp. They were also designed to run on any fuel after adjustments had been made but we never attempted this during my time.
There was also a 3 cylinder Coventry Climax auxiliary engine fitted on the left wall of the engine compartment to provide power for the turret equipment and to help start up the main engine.
The Main Gun
The main armament was a 120 mm gun, with a rifled barrel which was extremely accurate and could fire whilst on the move as well as when static. In the early days it had a half inch ranging machine gun alongside the barrel which was later scrapped when optical computerised ranging was introduced. REME fitters did help the crews to “bomb up” when we were on the firing ranges and the tank held at least 60 shells and bag charges for the main gun.
There was a crew of four, a commander in the top turret, a gunner who sat below the commander to the right of the main gun and a loader/radio operator who was to the left of the main gun. The driver who was in the front beneath the barrel drove the tank in a reclined position when hatches were closed. REME used to drive the tanks when they were short of crew on the firing ranges.
When the call went out for “Bluebell drivers” (REME personnel) wanted on night gunnery exercises, we reported to our troop Sergeant and were allocated a vehicle to drive. When the barrel is facing forward, the driver’s seat is reasonably easy to get in. If the barrel is locked to the rear, you had to contort yourself to get in.
You lowered yourself onto the seat, operated the orange seat lowering levers either side and your seat dropped and the back rest went back and a head rest came up. You closed the hatch and locked it down and when you lowered your head onto the head rest you could tell this was how the tank should be driven. All the instruments were in front of you, gear indicator gauge, rpm indicator, speedometer and oil gauge. The feet supports were at the right angle for your heels to fit comfortably in and you could see through the periscope for driving forward. The gear change box was a small round box on the left side with a motorcycle type pedal which was flicked up to change up through the gears and pressed down to go back down through the gears. There were 6 forward gears and six reverse gears. The top speed of the tank was approximately 35 mph, forward or backwards, steering with left and right levers instead of a steering wheel.
When you drove the tank looking through the hatch you had better visibility but could not see any of your gauges and the foot controls felt all wrong. You also had to be very careful you did not bounce your face off the hatch rim if you missed a gear change.
The tracks were made up with 96 links on each side with rubber pads bolted into each link. This was to reduce the damage to main roads and did help maintain traction on icy surfaces. Track bashing was the crew’s job, to either adjust the tension of the tracks or even change tracks that had stretched past their usefulness. This task was labour intensive and not looked forward to.
My time with the Irish regiment 5th Inniskillings is fondly remembered spending much of my 2 years on exercises with my squadron. When we were radioed by a tank requesting assistance you always arrived at their location and found the engine covers up and cans of beer in a hole in the ground ready for consumption. Pouring water on the mud covering the cans kept the beer cold due to evaporation. These beers were shared with us and much appreciated when the job was finished.